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Unexplained Weight Loss and Stress

By Barbara Sorensen ; Updated July 18, 2017

Stress, along with its effects on the human body, is a much-studied science. It is hard for scientists to pinpoint an exact definition for it, because each person manifests stress differently. However, according to the American Institute of Stress, there at least 50 telltale signs of stress, one of which is unexplained weight loss. Anything can trigger stress as well, which makes it all the harder for physicians and other health care workers to treat it.


The first step in identifying your unexplained weight loss is to visit your primary care physician to rule out any possible diseases. After serious illnesses such as cancer have been excluded, it’s a safe bet that your weight loss is stress-related. Stress can be brought on by work, home life, particular relationships or even a past event. Stress can trigger certain chemicals in your brain that can exacerbate and accentuate stress and its effects.


The Center for Innovation in Science Learning (CISL) at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania explains that stress is not as innocuous as it seems. When you are stressed, certain chemicals are released that travel throughout your body. The first system to respond to something stressful is your sympathetic nerves. In turn, when the event that has caused the stress is removed, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to help your brain relax. The problem with this scenario is that the stress chemicals stay aggressively mobile within the brain and can actually kill off cells in particular parts of your brain needed for recall and absorbing necessary information.


Stress and depression are closely linked in that they both can involve unexplained weight loss. Often people who are depressed will simply stop eating. Other illnesses that can cause unexplained weight loss and are linked to an overload of stress hormones are a compromised immune system, rheumatoid arthritis or gastrointestinal diseases.


Stress is part of life, and according to Mental Health America.org, most people experience stress from everyday occurrences. Stress can be brought on by simple things; there is not always a dramatic event. Loud noises, being caught in a traffic jam, fussy children—all can take their toll on your nervous system. The key to combating stress is learning how to control it before it manifests itself as a physiological illness. Some of the ways to manage stress are regular exercise, utilizing relaxation methods such as yoga and deep breathing, remaining socially active, minimizing the use of alcohol and keeping your weight down.


Since stress can cause some people to lose their appetite, the best thing to do, according to the Women’sHealth website, is to find the right kinds of food that help fight stress. Some of these foods are: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, avocados, oatmeal, oranges, salmon and spinach. All of these foods either carry antioxidants, increase serotonin, or are packed with vitamin C, magnesium or omega-3 fatty acids. These are all good edibles that help soothe your brain and ease stress.

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